Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fifteen Ways the Advertising Business Used To Be More Fun, Part II

Last week I gave the first seven reasons. Here are the last eight.

8.    Everyone lived for the work
The work was everything.  Even at the straightest, most boring agencies, everyone believed in what they were doing and what they had created.  We all lived to make it better.  Every agency fought back against copy testing which made the work bland.  We all loved those arguements, (but rarely won them).

9.    There were no silos
If someone had an idea, agencies would find a way to act on it.  A person could have a non-media, public relations idea or a promotional thought on how to push their client’s business and it would get presented and often executed.  Creatives came up with new product ideas. Media commissions provided the room to do non-revenue ideas or the client actually gladly paid for them.

10.     There was integration among the agency disciplines, especially media
Media, account, research and creative met together to determine strategy and client direction.  Those meetings were often long and argumentative, but what resulted was successful and good work.  When media was in the same building, there was more synergy.

            11.  Everyone had his or her own office 
I have written about open plan offices.  There is empirical proof that open plan does not foster creativity; that is a myth perpetuated by finance in order to save money.  People thrived in their own private space.  It also incentivized people to aspire upward so they could bet bigger and better space.  And, indeed, a good office was a mark of an employee’s success and status.
12.     Agencies had real bonus plans, profit-sharing and other incentives
Especially at the big agencies, people who worked at them for ten or more years could leave with a huge nest-egg.  Smaller agencies did other things to keep employees.
13)  Summer Fridays made the business attractive
Taking Friday off during the summer was commonplace.  Many agencies had half-day Fridays or every other Friday off.  Today, not so much; a few agencies offer a couple of optional Fridays in the summer, but many have done away with this perk all together.  There is no evidence that taking away this perk increased productivity.  However, in order to meet the demands of client procurement which lists how many hours the agency must work, this wonderful benefit has gradually waned. 
14)  Big Parties
Part of the whole Mad Men thing was having big, lavish parties which included spouses and suppliers, not just at the holidays, but during the year.  There were many excuses – Welcome Summer, Spring Picnics, etc.  It made people like the business and look forward to staying at their agency.
 15)  Less Fear
Finally, there was less fear.  Fear of being fired or cut back.  I have written about fear.  People who worked on an account that left an agency knew that if they were doing a good job,  knew they would probably not be fired.  And if they were cut back they were, for the most part, given fair and decent severance. 
I am sure you can add to this list or correct it.  I would love to hear your opinions.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fifteen Ways The Advertising Business Used To Be More Fun, Part I

If you are under forty or so, you keep hearing how much fun advertising used to be. Starting back in the 1990’s things began to get serious and, today, most of the fun has been squeezed out of the business.  This has happened largely because of client dictated fees. Most of the things on this list, which are now missing, can be traced back to the reduction of income to ad agencies.

As I was writing, this list got long enough to do it in two parts.  Second part, next week.

Many of us have seen the business lose its luster and fun, which effects the work. One comment puts this post into perspective. About fifteen years ago, a very well-known advertising person was approached to come out of retirement and become chairman of one of the major agencies.  He and I had lunch to discuss the feasibility of his success.  One of the things he wanted to do was to bring back water-fights to the creative department. Yes, that’s right, water-fights.  Literally. (Over my advertising career, more than once I got soaked just being an innocent - or not so innocent - by-stander.) I suggested that he should probably not bring it up to the management team interviewing him; I didn't think it was appropriate. But he brought it up anyway.  He did not get the job.  I  thought strategy was right, but the execution wrong – we need to bring back the fun.

I have given this a lot of thought and here are some of the things that actually made the business fun.  Most don’t exist anymore.

1.    Big production film shoots
I can remember going to California for weeks at a time with the client and a huge contingent of agency people.  An entire account and creative group would go, including assistants.  We stayed lavishly (I loved the bungalows at The Beverly Hills Hotel), ate where ever we wanted and the clients joined us.  It was a wonderful bonding experience and, ultimately, helped produce better work.

2.    There were real training programs
Once upon a time all the young people participated in real training; training was for account people, creatives, research and media.  It consisted of lectures about the work (often showing creative work from other agencies), about strategy, marketing, about the media and about the business, often culminating in being given a case which the participants were broken into groups to solve.  Everyone worked hard, had a good time and got really good exposure to management who judged their work.  It, too, was great for bonding.  Case history winners got good prizes and accolades. Assistant account executives and junior creative people went on local shoots – it was part of training and got people motivated and involved with the business.

3.    Agencies did much more than advertising
We wrote both marketing and advertising plans.  We analyzed sales and marketing data and made recommendations based on our observations.  Last week, I wrote about the best focus group insight – the issue was only tangentially related to advertising. We worked with clients as their partners to solve problems, bring new products to market.  Sometimes, we even conceived of those products.

4.     We went out with salesmen and helped make sales calls
We were so integrated into our client’s business that, often, the client sales force came to us with observations and ideas rather than their own management.

5.    Water-fights and other nonsense were an integral part of the business
They really did happen. Probably not as much as portrayed by those who, in retrospect, yearn for the good old days.  But ad agencies worked hard and played hard.  I can remember a head of account management who would take the entire account group out to the movies during lunchtime. We ended up loving each other and having fun.

6.    Client entertaining wasn’t just reserved for management
Everyone was encouraged to spend social time with clients.  Getting to know clients on a one-to-one basis was taken for granted.  Going to good restaurants, theatre and ball games was encouraged and smart business. These perks were not just reserved for senior management.

7.    Everyone pitched in to help each other
Long before there were collating machines, I can remember laying out huge documents on a conference room table and having twenty people march around collating the pages.  It gave everybody a sense of ownership and participation.

To be continued, next week.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Best Focus Group Insight, Ever

We’ve all done endless focus groups.  Occasionally, there is a good nugget of information, but mostly, everyone complains that they are tedious.  Back in the 1970’s, I did a series of focus groups that provided a perfect insight into branding – long before the term branding came into common use.

I worked at Kenyon & Eckhardt.  K&E was a big Ford agency, handling Lincoln-Mercury and other Ford brands  The OEM for all Ford radios was Philco. Philco was a pioneering electronics company, making television, radio, refrigerators and other home appliances, as well as major industrial and military goods. But, except for sales in Ford automobiles, the brand hadn’t done well for many years.  Ford was trying to decide what to do with the brand when they came to K&E for help.  K&E and Ford put together a task force of its smartest executives.  Among the things which we did were to conduct focus groups all across the country.  The purpose of these groups was to gain insights into how consumers felt about the brand in various markets. The client joined us on our trip.  The task force included the possible new president of Philco, one or two other Philco executives and a very senior executive of Ford. 

Everyone who has sat through endless focus groups knows that occasionally something new or really insightful is said, but after a while, they can become redundant and, actually, boring.

We were in Fort Wayne, Indiana and a lady in the group said this gem, “If I buy a Zenith or an RCA and the product is bad, I got a lemon.  But if I buy a Philco or a Sylvania and the product is bad, the company sucks.”  The statement sent shivers through the group of executives sitting behind the mirror.  It was the most articulate comment about branding that any of us had ever heard.

At a quick dinner between groups, we were discussing the previous group.  I brought up the comment the woman had made and told everyone that it was an amazing observation about the nature of the Philco brand.  One of the Ford executives looked up and said the he was blown away by the remark and that, in fact, that he believed that the woman was right and the brand was dead unless Ford invested a fortune in both improving quality and in advertising and marketing.  We all agreed that they could not spend enough money to solve the perceptual problem which hung over the brand like a bleak cloud.  

The senior executive from Ford turned out to be its future president, Lee Iacocca.  We all agreed to cancel the remaining focus groups because there was no need to go further.  The woman who made the statement about the company, will never know what she said or did.

(Ford put the brand up for sale and a few months later it was sold to GTE, who then resold it.  To make a long story short, The Philco name disappeared after it was sold to Phillips.  Phillips, one of the world’s largest electronics companies, had been precluded from selling its products in the United States because of the closeness of the Philco and Phillips names. You know the rest.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Adventures In Recruiting: The Unreasonable (And Sleazy) Demands By A Client

For years, I have wondered why a good client would suddenly turn on a recruiter who they had been working with for years.  There was no explanation given for the company's unnecessary and sleazy behavior. 

A few years ago, I placed someone at a major ad agency. It was an agency I had done successful business with for years.  As you might know, most recruiters guarantee their candidates for 90 days (an absurd but necessary thing).  About sixty or seventy days in to the job, the human resources director called me to tell me it was not working out, but she was non-specific.  I told her I would get to work on the replacement.  The HR person told me to hold up, that they were trying to make it work, but that she would get back to me before 90 days.

At about the 90 day mark, I called and she told me that they were still trying to work it out.  About a month later, I called again. I would have been willing to find another candidate, even though we were now into the fourth or fifth month, because this was a good client.  She again told me that they were not ready yet.  I once again asked what the issue was but the HR person merely told me that it just wasn’t a good match – which hardly gives me direction to re-start the search.

At that point, I simply forgot about it since, obviously, they could not have been that dissatisfied.
After about a year, and many other placements at the same ad agency, the HR director called and asked me to replace the candidate.  He was still working there but they had put him on another account.  I replied that she had to be kidding, it was about a year.  Her response to me was that she informed me before the 90th day that they were unhappy and therefore I was responsible to replace the candidate.  I told her that I could no longer honor the agreement since it had been too long and the candidate was still employed by them.  (My contracts are very clear that they only cover a candidate leaving a company.)

What followed was a torrent of cursing and insults in order to try to get me to replace the candidate at no charge to the company. I explained that a placement made on contingency was essentially a double guarantee.  First, the recruiter does not get paid for any work and time unless and until they place someone, despite, perhaps, hours of work.  Second, a recruiter has to hold his or her breath hoping that the company and the managers who the candidate works for are nice enough that the candidate stays (mostly, that isn’t a problem).  In this case the candidate was still there and I should not be responsible to replace him. 

I lost the account until the HR person left the company about a year later.
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